Danny & the Deep Blue Sea, Chancery Lane Theatre, Dublin
John Patrick Shanley, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Doubt, is one of modern American theatre’s greats. This fierce revival of his 1984 breakthrough, by Back of the Hand theatre company, reveals all of Shanley’s facility with language and character.
It opens with the meeting of deadbeats Danny (Edwin Mullane) and Roberta (Clodagh Downing), in a Bronx bar. As his bloodied face and fists make clear, Danny is hellfire incarnate. The seductive Roberta, a divorced young mother who lives with her parents, is similarly troubled, and burdened by a mythically charged sin. The pair’s initial interaction is barbed and fraught, yet, by the play’s end, there is a glimmer of hope that their romance may come to cleanse them of their demons.
Shanley is operating on a fairytale register, but doesn’t overcook it. Danny is called ‘the beast’ by his co-workers, while Roberta’s prize possession is a toy doll in bridal white — an avatar of herself, a caged princess seeking release.
As the characters rest beneath the artificial light of a neighbouring building, Shanley bestows the power of poetry on the brutish Danny, along with the power to expiate Roberta’s guilt. Will the grace of this fake light redeem these tortured souls?
Shanley’s modern-day fable is a little formulaic and the ambiguity of the ending can’t obscure that. Yet the clean, economic structuring, aligned with Shanley’s dialogue and the intensity of the performances, make this wonderful theatre. Channelling his inner James Gandolfini, Mullane is a convincing ball of rage, while Downing’s sultry turn, as the self-destructive Roberta, is perfectly pitched.
Star Rating: 4/5
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